Years ago when I was responsible for attorney development in my firm, I gave a business development presentation to a group of brand new partners at their orientation. As I surveyed the crowd, I realized that not one of the new partners had given any thought to business development. Not one had a prepared a business plan with written goals.

Instead, each of the new partners was only concerned with pleasing the senior partner who had lobbied to get them promoted. That strategy might have worked when the economy was so good that even the worst law firms were doing well. It certainly no longer works. If over the years those income partner did not develop clients of their own, they likely were let go. Even the partner with all the business who lobbied to get them promoted could no longer protect them.

I thought of the old school thinking as I was reading Seth Godin’s book Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? on my Kindle . Early in the book Seth describes the old American Dream and the New American Dream. His list of each seems very close to the old dream for young lawyers and the new dream for young lawyers. 

Here is my take on old and new dreams:

Old dream for young lawyers:

  • Get your hours
  • Do your assignments
  • Put in face time at the office
  • Keep the lawyer feeding you business happy
  • Suck it up

Lawyers in the old dream never needed to worry about client development. Instead they needed to worry about keeping the senior lawyer for whom they worked happy and hope he never got hit by a bus when he crossed the street. The old dream worked because work was plentiful, seniors lawyers did not want younger lawyers they developed to have clients on their own and leave the nest. Young lawyers were told: "You don’t need to worry about client development. We have all the work for you that you will ever need."

New dream for young lawyers:

  • Develop a unique skill that will be needed for many years
  • Become a people person and build relationships
  • Get to know your clients’ businesses and industries
  • Create remarkable articles, blog posts, podcasts and webinars your clients will value
  • Be generous with your non-billable time
  • Become involved in your community/bar
  • Stay in contact with people you know both in person and using social media

It takes way more than getting your hours, working hard and sucking it up to achieve what is needed in the new economy. What are you doing to create and accomplish your New American Dream?